Experts question data behind Indonesian President Jokowi's war on drugs

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia has executed 14 drug traffickers this year as part of President Joko Widodo's war on a "narcotics emergency" he says is killing at least 40 people a day, but researchers have questioned the reliability of the study that produced that figure.

Amid international condemnation of the execution of mostly foreign drug convicts, the president's office has cited research by the country's narcotics agency (BNN), but five international experts contacted by Reuters said its methodology was unreliable.

To reach the conclusion that more than 14,000 people died annually from drugs, BNN asked around 2,100 drug users how many of their friends who used drugs had died in the past year, and extrapolated from that an estimate of the number deaths among addicts throughout the country. "This methodology is very problematic and very unlikely to generate reliable data," said Kathryn Daley, who researches drug use at RMIT University in Melbourne.

BNN stood by the research, saying its methodology was sound.

Widodo has frequently said drug-related deaths fuelled his decision to refuse clemency to drug traffickers and step up the pace of executions since he came into office last year, after a five-year moratorium. "The crime warrants no forgiveness," the president said in a televised speech to university students in December, adding that executions were a necessary deterrence in the nation's war on drugs.

TOUGH STANCE

Widodo's tough stance, though popular at home, has strained relations with a number of countries, including Australia, Brazil, Nigeria and the Netherlands, all of which have had citizens executed by firing squad for drug crimes.

Health researchers contacted by Reuters said there were many problems with BNN's methodology, including relying on people's recollections to predict nationwide drug mortality.

Chen Zhengming, of Oxford University, said the accepted way to study deaths would be to follow a group of at least 50,000 people, some of whom were drug addicts, over time to see who died and how.

When asked about the method, BNN spokesman Slamet Pribadi insisted it was a valid technique that produced reliable data. "I can assure you our 2014 report is not just based on anecdotal evidence but on data collected in at least 17 provinces out of 33," he said.

The agency's 2014 report revised the figure to 33 drug-related deaths per day, but used the same methods as the 2008 study that estimated at least 40 deaths per day.

Indonesia reported 447 deaths - less than two per day - in 2010 to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, but that figure only included drug-related deaths in treatment centres in hospitals in 21 of the country's provinces.